Ruth Inglis

Dauntless writer and journalist
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The Independent Online

Ruth Filer Langdon, writer and journalist: born Mukden, China 17 December 1927; married 1952 Keith Woodeson (one daughter; marriage dissolved 1957), 1958 Brian Inglis (died 1993; one son; marriage dissolved 1974); died London 15 December 2005.

Ruth Inglis was a writer and journalist whose career spanned continents. A spell as a cub reporter on the Singapore Straits Times was followed by a stint on the Continental Daily Mail in Paris. In Sixties London she became a star interviewer for Nova magazine, and then worked in Fleet Street as a feature writer for the Daily Express. In later years she wrote a number of books on education and parent-child relationships.

The daughter of a US diplomat and Japanese scholar from the New England aristocracy, she was born Ruth Langdon in 1927 in sub-zero temperatures in Mukden, Manchuria. She learnt Chinese before she was eight, developed a resilience against life's inconveniences, and a passion for literature. The dearth of outside stimuli made books her chief companions. Educated at a mix of far-flung "American schools", she graduated from Barnard College in New York before joining her parents in Singapore for her father's final posting, and beginning her journalistic career on the Straits Times.

All good Americans head for Paris, preferably before they die. Ruth was no exception and a stint on the Continental Daily Mail there began a lifelong amity with France. But she was an Anglophile too and in1952 she married an Englishman, Keith Woodeson, representative of the Continental Daily Mail in Italy, with whom she had a daughter, Diana, born in Boston three years later. Motherhood suited but, keen to resume her career, she got a job on the public relations staff at Sarah Lawrence College, New York.

The yearning for Europe remained and after her divorce she headed back to London on the brink of the Swinging Sixties. In 1958 she married the Anglo-Irish journalist - and later broadcaster - Brian Inglis, then embarking on his memorable editorship of The Spectator. There were stylish parties at their flat in Montagu Square for those in the literary and political swim; a tradition continued from a house in nearby Albion Street when her son Neil was born in 1962.

Petite, glossy and vivacious, Ruth Inglis hunted lions and laid on five-star conversation and canapés but as usual she pined for work and was hired by Dennis Hackett for his new Nova magazine; her glory days as an interviewer had begun. She exemplified a non-confrontational, pre-Lynn Barber style, perceptive rather than bitchy, profiling such subjects as John Updike, Katherine Graham, Roald Dahl and Bianca Jagger.

She championed successful friends including the American poet Anne Sexton and the Irish novelist Jennifer Johnston, but had time for younger, more raw talent too. Preparing a dinner party for Arthur Koestler one evening she still found time to help me with an essay I was struggling with for my tutor at the LSE.

When her marriage to Brian Inglis broke up in 1974 she dusted herself down and dived into the tough world of Fleet Street proper as a feature writer for the Women's pages of the Daily Express. She wrote on abortion, domestic violence and child abuse, as well as the more scholarly topics of child development and education which had always interested her.

Inglis thrived in that vanished world of hot metal journalism, wonky typewriters and boozy lunches retiring, probably fortunately for her, before the advent of computers, bottled water and Pret a Manger snacks in Canary Wharf. She was not of a technological disposition and was one of the most eccentric drivers I have ever known, though that never prevented her exploring her favourite county, Suffolk, where in the 1980s she worked on her books, often with her then companion, the Canadian writer Eric Burdick.

Inglis had published her first book, A Time to Learn, in 1973; a guide for parents to the theories of early-years education, it was prefaced with a memoir of her unusual childhood in China. This was followed by The Sins of the Fathers (1978), a study of child abuse; Must Divorce Hurt the Children? (1982); The Good Step-Parent's Guide (1986); and The Children's War (1989), a perceptive account of Second World War evacuees that led to an exhibition at the Imperial War Museum. In the 1990s she wrote a regular column on influential educators (Maria Montessori, Benjamin Spock) for Nursery World. Her final book, The Window in the Corner (2001), was a history of children's television.

Ruth, or "Boo" as her family and many of us called her, was my friend for 40 years. If I had to use one word to describe her it would be "dauntless". She was a lifter not a leaner, a glass-half-full person with a zest for life and laughter and for friends of all ages.

Her last years were challenging ones. Living in a small flat in east London and coping with heart trouble and diabetes, she remained resolutely cheerful. Her family felt that, on form, work would the best antidote to such travails and they were right. She was working on a memoir of her father and planning another book when she died.

Jane McKerron

As my trainee reporter in Singapore, Ruth Inglis had to endure attempts by well-oiled expatriates to exploit her inexperience, writes Ron Baxter . She once told me that a planter had described an oxometer he was using to detect Communist guerrillas in his rubber plantation. I told her that an oxometer was an army term for a device that was said to measure bullshit. She didn't get angry - she never did, ever. She was always cheerful, dedicated and decent.

Her books were written without any real prospect of major financial gain. She refused to compromise, and they had all the more impact as a result.

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